Whatever it takes

Tennessee's basketball team never knows what it will get from All-America forward Tyler Smith.

It might get 30 points, as it did vs. Vanderbilt last February.

It might get 17 rebounds, as it did vs. Vanderbilt in 2008.

It might get 10 assists, as it did vs. UNC Asheville last December.

It might get a trio of 3-pointers, as it did four times to date.

One thing the Vols always count on getting from Tyler Smith, however, is whatever is needed to help them win. That's the only item on his agenda each time he takes the floor.

As head coach Bruce Pearl put it: "When it's something we're going to need to beat the best teams on our schedule, Tyler will do whatever it takes.

"If that means having one of the best assist/turnover ratios in the country - which he does right now - that's what it will be be. If it means scoring on the inside, that's what he'll provide. If it means scoring on the outside, that's what he'll do."

Smith hasn't done a lot of scoring to date, inside or outside. He's attempting less than eight shots per game and has launched just one 3-point try all year.

Although he has been somewhat quiet offensively, Smith has made enormous contributions to the UT cause.

To wit:

- He led Tennessee rebounders vs. Austin Peay (11) and DePaul (9).

- He led the Vols in assists vs. Austin Peay (4), Purdue (3) and College of Charleston (5).

- He led the Big Orange in steals vs. Austin Peay (2) and East Carolina (4).

- He led Tennessee in points vs. DePaul (14) and East Tennessee State (15).

Seven games into the season Smith shares the team lead in assists (26) and steals (9). He ranks second in field-goal percentage (60.0), rebounds (4.9 per game) and points (13.3 per game).

After leading the Vols in assists as a junior last year, he is on pace to do so again as a senior. He's tied with first-team point guard for the team lead, three ahead of backup point guard Melvin Goins (23).

"I think we have a nice, healthy race between Tyler and Bobby and Melvin, as far as who's going to lead us in assists," Pearl said. "That's a great, great competition when you've got three guys."

In addition to dishing out assists, Smith is managing to avoid turnovers. His spectacular 5.2-1 ratio of assists (26) to turnovers (5) ranks third nationally.

"He's one of the best in the country," Pearl said. "You talk about going to strengths, and that's obviously what Tyler is doing. You have to appreciate that."

Tennessee keeps one stat that the NCAA does not. Called "plus/minus," it records how many points your team outscores the opponent by while each player is on the floor.

"Tyler leads in our plus/minus," Pearl said, "and I think one of the things that chart has been pretty consistent with is assist/turnover ratio. We play better with Tyler on the floor."

But then, you already knew that ... if you've been paying attention.

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